Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Cherries are here

We've had a few really nice days now since it last rained, so today was cutting the grass day....


We have quite a lot of grass in our "parc" and it usually takes me about 4 hours to do the basic cut and then another couple of hours to do all the fiddly bits where I can't get with my big lawnmower.  I rarely do it all in one day, usually cutting the bulk of the grass one day and then taking the hand mower round the next   That's my plan for tomorrow as usual.

Imagine my delight as I discovered that as the journey around the garden took me under the cherry tree, I was able to pick a few cherries, without even stopping.

That's the cherry tree on the right of the's a big old affair and stands about 10 metres (30 feet)  high.   I usually harvest the lower half for myself and leave any fruit on the upper half, which is pretty inaccessible,  to be collected by the birds and other animals.1st cherries 0905

After I finished the grass cutting I went and collected a basket of fruit...just collecting the ones that were in easy reach, and leaving a good quantity of those very low ones for a neighbour's young daughter to pick tomorrow...(no school as it's a holiday here in France)

I find that fresh cherries freeze really well, and can be eaten, simply defrosted with no further attention needed....

I also still have a large bag in the freezer, which I intend to turn into jam...  I better get a move on....

although, I'm not sure how many of these will make it to the freezer.....

If the weather holds, I think tomorrow will be spent cutting the grass with the hand mower before getting the steps and ladder out and seriously picking cherries.

Now, lunch....cherries and chips anyone???

Friday, May 15, 2009

Nest-building Wren

Spring has arrived here in south west France and it has brought with it an opportunity for my friend Michael to get out again photographing the local wildlife.   He sent me these 4 pictures which he took the other day.  The French call the bird a "troglodyte", but we English speakers know it as a wren.  Michael has been trying to capture photos of this bird for several years.  It is the second smallest European bird weighing in at only 9 grams (about 1/3 of an ounce) and is very shy.

 Troglodyte 003 Troglodyte 001
Troglodyte 002 Araignée 


The fourth picture is difficult to see but is of a spider....  I still continue to be amazed at how Michael even finds these photo opportunities, let alone captures them.

Once again, thanks to Michael for sharing these photos with us.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

A Week of Firsts

1st broad beansI found a lamb joint buried deep in the recesses of my freezer the other day and decided to make a roast lamb dinner for Sunday Lunch.  I had a look around for things to accompany my meal and found quite a nice selection.  Then I took a look in my garden and decided that I could pick enough broad beans to accompany the lamb.... My first broad beans of the year.....

Actually, this is not strictly true as I have been picking young broad beans for a while now and slicing them into my salads...but these were the first broad beans I intended to shell and cook....and they were delicious...

The following day a friend dropped in just to see how I was getting on with the new garden and as we walked around I showed him some young new rhubarb plants.   These plants had been given to me by a friend in Wales back in October of last year and she had grown them from seed.  I had never come across rhubarb grown from seed before so I took them with interest.  I'm hoping to get a little rhubarb this year but probably won't really get a harvest until next 1st strawberries spring.  All the talk of rhubarb led me to take him round to where my established rhubarb crown has been flourishing for a few years and is coming up to time to divide...  I found several stalks were ready to be collected so I cut them, removing the leaves for the compost, before sending him on his way with my first rhubarb of 2009.

And then today, Wednesday, the first strawberries were ready to pick...So I was able to enjoy strawberries and cream with my afternoon tea.   When I started the garden last year, strawberries were one of the first plants I bought.   I bought 12 each of 2 varieties and carefully alternated them as I planted....Now I do not have a clue which plant is which...but both are delicious

Suddenly the garden is flourishing and I'm really enjoying all this fresh produce, knowing that just over a year ago I made my first tentative steps into the world of vegetable gardening....  Is rhubarb a vegetable??

A big thank you goes out to everyone out there who has helped me along the way.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

About my tomatoes???????

I'm looking for some advice, and where better to pose a question than right here...  It's about planting my tomatoes....

I have a bed which faces, roughly, south west,  probably more south south west.  In this bed I am going to plant two rows of tomatoes, each row containing 10 plants.  I want to plant 10 plants each of two varieties.

I can't decide whether I'm better off planting 2 rows of 5 for each variety, or whether each variety should have a single row of ten plants.

What do you think?    Please leave a comment with your suggestions and reasoning.  It will be a great help to me.


Friday, May 8, 2009

Fish in a kind of Provencal sauce

It was Friday and I was running out of food....  Well it would be an exaggeration to say running out of food....  My garden is loaded with salad stuff, I had the few last leaves of cabbage growing and the new crop of Broad Beans was ready for it's first picking.....  but....

So, it was Friday and I was running out of food and I had to prepare lunch.  The solution in my mind was take a look at what I actually had and then create something...which would hopefully be tasty.

There were the last couple of pieces of coley, which I quite like.  I had Courgettes (zucchini), lots, I found a fennel in the vegetable rack and as I dug into the freezer, I found the last few tomatoes from last year,  3 large Marmande, a tomato I find very tasty and which freezes and keeps well.

I could create a fish in a kind of Provencal sauce.

sauce  I got down my big old heavy frying pan from the rack and set it on a medium heat

Provence is olive country so a good tablespoon of olive oil was the first thing in the pan, quickly followed by a generous dose of "Herbes de Provence"....(what else??)

Next I peeled and sliced 4 cloves of garlic and chopped a medium onion, throwing them in the pan as I went.

The pan had now warmed sufficiently to turn down to a low heat.

I chopped the onion and tomatoes and added those.  I really needed more tomatoes but I didn't have any so I opened a tin of Italian plum tomatoes and chopped them before adding them, along with all the liquid

I chopped half the fennel and added that.

When I found the tomatoes, I also found a small aubergine (egg plant) from last year...although, I didn't actually grow aubergine last year!!! so that got chopped and added

A few dates, pitted and chopped and the sauce was beginning to come together although it lacked something...  I added a teaspoon of sea salt and a generous cupful of a sweet white wine I have.

The wine is a home made wine made by a local farmer....  It is made in the same way that Monbazillac is IMG_0506 made.  Sadly, he lives a few kilometres outside the Monbazillac Vignoble limits and as he isn't a registered wine producer it remains as a home made wine which he can't sell.   This particular bottle was 25 years old and beautifully mellow and smooth.

The fennel was added next and then the sauce left to simmer gently until the liquid had reduced quite a bit.

In the meantime, I lay the fish fillets in the bottom of an ovenproof dish and scattered a good handful of peeled prawns (shrimp) over them.

Once the sauce was ready I covered the fish with it and then baked in a medium oven for about 20 minutes (180C).

I started off calling this a "kind of Provencal sauce" but I'm not sure anyone from Provence would give it a seal of approval....

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Spring Water in Spring

Saturday morning brought another visit to Villereal market, and this week, the first Saturday in May, brought a big increase in the numbers of people there.  It seems to me, that this year, the arrival of the normal summer crowds has been somewhat delayed....   Last week, the weather was awful and the market was all but deserted, with a few hardy traders trying to make a living from even fewer shoppers.   But today, the sunshine was back,  the crowds were back and the market had a great buzz.
On the way home from market I often stop at my local "source" to fill a couple of bottles.  A "source" is a natural spring and there is one in our little community.  The water bubbles out of the rock at the back of a small cave and can be collected at the entrance to the cave, as people have done for many hundreds of years

The water is so crystal clear and tastes wonderful.  This photograph shows just how clear the water is, although it really doesn't do justice to the place as it is difficult to even see the water is present although, here, it is actually about 500mm (18") deep.

It is in a beautiful spot, overlooking the valley and I usually park in the village square and then walk past the 12th century church and down the track towards the "source" enjoying some fabulous scenery on the way.

Once there, I can fill a couple of containers and then sit for a moment, under the shade of a big old chestnut tree and drink in, not the refreshing water, but the peace and tranquility of this idyllic spot.

Sitting in the sunshine, I often think of times gone bye and imagine people, hundreds of years ago, in this same spot, resting their horses and filling their water carriers.